Pentecost – my sermon for this week
Back from two weeks in Crete, where the priest I live with and I went to get some sunshine – a much needed respite from the unseasonable cold and wet of our English spring this year – but also to coincide with Orthodox Easter. Back in time to preach for the feast of Pentecost.
There’s not much that’s more annoying than returning from holiday to find a note on the table from the person who’s been feeding the cats while you’re away saying: Welcome home, the cats are fine … and by the way you’ve got a flat tyre. We went out to have a look. Yes – there it was. It was fine when we went away – and now it wasn’t. So on Wednesday morning, as the car belongs to the priest I live with, she phoned the RAC (Note: the royal Automobile Club, a vehicle breakdown service in the UK) to come and change the wheel so that she could drive to the garage to get a new tyre. The man from the RAC was there in seconds – literally! Turned out he lives in Caterham and this was his first call, and the priest I live with had hardly put the phone down when he arrived! He quickly put on the temporary wheel, and then before he went said: All I need to do now is check your oil level. They never used to do that – but in these recessionary days people are not having their cars serviced so frequently, so now the RAC check on every call. Just as well – the oil level was very low as the car is somewhat overdue for a service.
The thing about cars is that there is so much that needs looking after if you are to keep your car running smoothly. Some things – like a flat tyre – are seen instantly. But other things will go unnoticed because they are hidden from sight – so you need to service the car regularly. Even something as simple as not enough oil can prove disastrous. I’m no mechanic, so I looked on the internet to see what happens if you’re oil runs out and found this:
First the engine temperature rises, carbonizing the existing oil, the added viscosity slows the flow of oil and the temperature begins to rise more rapidly. Friction continuously increases, creating more heat which causes more overheating of the engine, and finally seizing or extreme wear of the metal components. If it continues to run at all, it will be with loud knocking of worn-out bearings until total internal destruction.
I’m very glad the man from the RAC checked the oil level in our car. At least our engine won’t seize up or face ‘total internal destruction’.
Jesus is getting ready to leave his disciples. He says to them: the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. John makes it clear in this chapter, chapter 14 of his gospel, that the intent of Jesus is that when he is gone there will be a community of believing and obedient people. Not a group of individual Christians, who come and go as they please, but a real and thriving community, doing the work of Jesus and with Jesus at its centre, at its heart.
The thing is, Jesus knew full well that if he just left his disciples to get on with things that sooner or later this new community would simply seize up! They might have managed for a while, and on the outside everything might have looked fine, but sooner or later everything would have ground to a halt. With Jesus no longer at the heart of all they were doing they couldn’t keep going for long. So – what to do to enable the new community of the Church to grow, to prosper, and to do the greater works that Jesus promised they would do? Jesus needed to ensure that he remained at the centre, the heart, of the Christian community. Yet he was going to the Father – that’s what he told them. Jesus needed to find a way to keep the Church regularly serviced and running smoothly.
And the solution, of course, was to send the Holy Spirit: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever … the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I said to you. The way that Jesus sustains his Church, the way that Jesus is able to be right at the heart of the Christian community, his body on earth, is through the presence of his Holy Spirit.
And, of course, it is just as true today as it was then, that Jesus must be at the centre of the Church if it is to work properly, do the works of Jesus, and the greater works that he promised it would do. Just like a car that doesn’t get serviced and doesn’t have its oil topped up, sooner or later if we don’t keep Jesus at the heart of all we do, if we don’t allow the Holy Spirit to permeate every part of our being, we’ll just seize up and stop working. At first it might not be obvious – because like all those things we can’t see under the bonnet of a car, so there’s much in the church that we may not see underneath that’s not functioning as it should. And a Church without the lubrication of the Holy Spirit is like a car engine without oil – in the end you get ‘total internal destruction’.
Last week Holy Trinity Brompton held its annual Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. Through the wonders of modern technology I was able to follow it from my holiday in Crete on Twitter. If you don’t know what Twitter is, don’t worry! But those who understand these things may like to know that during the Conference it was the number one trend on Twitter in the UK – not often that Jesus is at the top of the nation’s agenda! Archbishop Justin, the Archbishop of Canterbury was one of the speakers and he said this: If Jesus is not central in the Church, then we are a Rotary with a pointy roof. His point, of course, is that if Jesus is not central then we’re no different to any other club or organisation – and Jesus quite clearly intends the Church to be different! If Jesus is not central in the Church, then we are a Rotary with a pointy roof.
Is Jesus at the centre of St John’s? Is he at the centre of your life? Is he at the centre of our church community? If we are willing to allow the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus from the Father, into our lives then not only will Jesus be right there in our hearts and the heart of our Church, we will then be able to go out as the first disciples did and do those greater works that Jesus promised.
And what might those greater works be? Contrary to the impression given by some churches they are not polishing the brass or trying to compile rotas that keep everyone happy or making sure no one piles chairs more than five high in the Church Hall. The greater works are not even going to lots of committee meetings or even bible Studies. They are works like those of Jesus: befriending the outcasts, healing the sick, speaking up for the marginalised, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, speaking the truths of God to and about those in secular authority. Because that’s what Jesus did. And a Church with Jesus at its centre will do all those things. And a Church that does all those things will be seen to have Jesus at its centre.
And all because of the gift that Jesus sends us from the Father. The Spirit who helps the Christian community remember all that Jesus did, the Spirit who helps us to know Jesus, the Spirit who helps us to be obedient to Jesus and do his work in the world. And all we have to do to receive that gift is ask – and he will come.
And he will come straight away. Not ‘within the hour’ or ‘later today’ or ‘sometime next week’. He comes straight away – just like our RAC man on Wednesday morning.
Let us pray
Father, open our hearts to receive your Holy Spirit into our lives and our church. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we may put Jesus at the centre of all that we are and all that we do. Through the power of your Holy Spirit may we do the works of Jesus, that our anxious and troubled world may know the peace that only Jesus can give. Amen.